Pacific Skipjack Tuna

Katsuwonus pelamis

Clinton Duffy/iNaturalist

The Science


Skipjack Tuna has a high metabolism, and can eat up to 25% of its bodyweight a day! [4] 

skipjack tuna placed against a backdrop with measurement marks
Kevin Long/iNaturalist

Taxonomic description

  • Has a silver body, with a dark blue-black back, and four to six dark stripes along its sides. [2,4]
  • Has very few scales, except for along its lateral line and head. [4]


  • Found throughout Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans in tropical and subtropical waters. [1,2,4]
  • Highly migratory. [1,2,4]

Life history

  • Has a life span of 7-12 years. [1]
  • Matures around 1 year of age and around 39.6 cm (1.3 ft) long, and it can grow up to 1.2 m (4 ft) and weigh over 70 pounds. [4,6,7]

  • Spawns all year long in equatorial waters and females can lay up to two million eggs. [1,2]
  • Through broadcast spawning, released eggs are fertilized and hatch one day later. [7]
  • Often found in schools of thousands for hunting and reproduction. [3]


  • Lives in the pelagic zone, spending most of its life in the open ocean. [7]
  • Schools with bigeye and yellowfin tuna. [7]
  • Predators of skipjack tuna includes large pelagic fishes, including billfish, larger tunas, and sharks. [6,7]
  • Preys on other fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and other tunas. [4,6,7]


The Fishery


Making up at least 60% of legally caught tunas, Skipjack is the most heavily fished tuna worldwide. [3]

Purse seine net with fish
 Purse seine net with fish. NOAA's Fisheries Collection/CC 

Seasonal availability

  • Available year round. [5]

Regulatory and managing authority

  • Internationally overseen by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). [5,6]
  • Along the Pacific West Coast, the fishery is overseen by NOAA fisheries and, as established by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the Pacific Fishery Management Council  through the West Coast Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plan. [5]
  • As established by the Marine Life Management Act, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) collects data on this fishery through the Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program. [10,11]

Gear type

  • Gear used include purse seines, troll, artisanal handline, pelagic longline, pelagic hook-and-line, and pole-and-line. [4,5,7] 
  • Purse seines are predominantly used. [5] 

Status of the fishery

  • Skipjack populations are difficult to assess due to high and variable productivity, but populations are thought to be stable and not overfished or subject to overfishing as of a 2015 stock assessment. [5,7]
  • Rapid growth and reproduction rates help tuna resist fishing pressure. [7]
  • The Fishery Management Plan for U.S. West Coast fisheries for Highly Migratory Species management includes:
    • Permits and documentation of catch. [5]
    • Gear constraints and requirements for operation. [5]
    • Large vessels require observer coverage and other vessels are subject to observer requests by NOAA. [5]
  • Measures have been adopted from the WCPFC and IATTC to regulate catch of juvenile tuna effecting other species through use of purse seine. [5]

Potential ecosystem impacts

  • When large purse-seine nets are set around Fish-Aggregation-Devices, there is a substantial amount of bycatch, including: other fish, sharks, rays, and sometimes even sea turtles, whales, or dolphins. [2,5,7,9]
  • Because fishing gears used for these tuna typically do not touch the ocean floor, there is minimal impact on the surrounding habitat. [6,7]


The Seafood


The canned tuna market is by far the most frequent production, with over 95% of skipjack tuna contributing to canned tuna supply. [4]   
smoked skipjack tuna tied onto wooden poles, smoke obscures half of the picture.
Smoked skipjack tuna tied onto wooden poles. Aan Kasman/flickr
Pacific skipjack tuna nutrition info.

Edible portions

  • Steaks, loins, headed and gutted, and canned. [7]

Description of meat

  • Deep red when raw, light gray when cooked. [5,7]
  • Large flakes of firm, moist, mild meat. [5,7]
  • Skipjack tuna has the most pronounced taste of tropical tunas. [5,7]

Culinary uses

  • Can be made fresh or frozen as steaks, loins, or headed and gutted. [7]
  • Typically fried, broiled, or sautéed. [7]
  • Most often eaten as canned, as “canned light” or “chunk light” tuna. [4,7]
  • For a tuna cake recipe, visit Martha Stewart. [12]
  • For a Filipino tuna recipe, visit Panlasang Pinoy. [13]

Nutritional information 

  • Tuna is a great source of low-fat protein. [7]
  • It has significant levels of omega-3 that benefit health in multiple ways. [1]
  • Nutrition facts given for a 100g serving. [5]

Toxicity report

  • Canned light tuna has a moderate concentration of mercury, but is a safer choice compared to other canned tuna. [8]

Seasonal availability

  • Available year round. [5]


[1] AnimalSpot. 2018. Skipjack Tuna. Web Accessed: 31 October 2018 

[2] WWF. 2017. Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 31 October 2018

[3] Oceana. Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 31 October 2018

[4] This Fish. 2013. Species: Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 1 November 2018

[5] FishWatch. 2018. Pacific Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 1 November 2018

[6] NOAA Fiseries. Pacific Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 1 November 2018

[7] FishChoice. Skipjack Tuna. Web. Accessed: 1 November 2018 

[8] Environmental Defense Fund. 2018. Mercury alert: Is canned tuna safe?. Web. . Accessed: 5 November 2018 

[9] GreenPeace. 2014. If You Eat Tuna, You Should Know These Five Fish. Web. Accessed: 5 November 2018 

[10] Marine Life Management Act. n.d. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Web. Accessed 24 August 2020. 

[11] Overview of the Pelagic Fisheries and Ecosystems Program. n.d. California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Web. Accessed 9 December 2020. 

[12] Stewart, M. Martha Stewart. 2007. Tuna Cakes Recipe. Web. Accessed 19 January 2021. 

[13] Manny. Panlasang Pinoy. 2018. Adobong Tulingan Recipe. Web.…. Accessed 19 January 2021. 

[14] Duffy, C. iNaturalist. 2019. Digital image. Web. Accessed 22 February 2021. 

[15] Long, K. iNaturalist. 2014. Digital image. Web. Accessed 23 February 2021. 

[16] Kasman, A. flickr. 2014. Smoked skipjack tuna #2. Digital image. Web. Accessed 22 February 2021.